Unknown Darjeeling: Differently delved Darjeeling
Darjeeling, “the queen of hills”, with long traffic jams, congested dwellings, cacophonic mall and narrow lanes through the markets has an enchanting appeal to people who come here again and again. This is the fourth time I visited Darjeeling and felt the same excitement that engulfed me 9 years back.
The zoo, the pagoda, the Tiger Hill, the mountaineering institute, the ropeway are among the most common itinerary of Darjeeling. But this time I decided to visit only a few places that we have not covered before. Our favourite stay at Darjeeling is Maple Tourist Lodge, snacks at Glenary’s, our new venture at Darjeeling was Happy Valley Tea Estate tour and we acquainted ourselves with the Heritage Toy train ride, yes for the first time.
Maple Tourist Lodge
Maple Tourist lodge is not one of the very common accommodations. It is a lodge with a homely feeling in a complete quite corner of Darjeeling, crossing the mall, down the way, just beside the SDPO office and bungalow.
History: This was built in 1934 as the villa of Bahadur Shamsher Jang Bahadur who was associated with the royal family of Nepal. His Majesty of Nepal late Veer Vikram Shah had made this a residence during his schooling days at St.Joseph’s School which is internationally renowned.
Then this lodge was used as the office of the District Magistrate and then was handed over to the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. Finally, it is taken under the administration of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration(GTA) and is presently a tourist lodge.
There are 14 rooms along with a common lounge on the first floor. The wooden stairs, wooden floor and old wooden furniture lend it a heritage status worthy to be won. Rooms are spacious, bright and airy with wooden framed glass windows.
A peep through the window will unfurl the valley dotted with houses and the Kanchenjunga with its head held high in the cloudless sky.
A well maintained small garden enhances its beauty.
They provide hot and fresh breakfast from 8 am. Milk and Corn Flakes along with bread, butter and omelette and tea or Big Poori with Aloo Sabzi and tea are usual breakfast, served in the dining hall downstairs.
A knock at your door every morning, a sturdy, short, smiling Dilipji with a hat on his head is there to let you know, “Breakfast is ready”. Dinner is served at 8.30 pm in a hot pot at your room. Both veg and non-veg are available and the quantity is more than sufficient.
Only a few things need improvement: upholstery is old and needs immediate replacement. Towels should be of better quality. The management should take initiative to renovate such a wonderful property.
I like this place as it is a far cry from the modern hotels. The wooden floor, furniture and the architecture coordinate well to make a medieval romantic ambience which I am in love with. The roof has a panoramic view of the Darjeeling City surrounded with hills and mountains. Happy valley Tea estate is 30 mins walk from here.
Within the brackets: I spent a stormy and rainy night at this villa and the mysterious feeling I treasured will surely help me in future to write a unique ghost story !!
Mr Dukpa is the very helpful and enthusiastic manager of this heritage pride of Darjeeling. He helped me a lot to write this article.
Glenary’s is probably everybody’s favourite. So is ours.
Happy Valley Tea Estate Tour
‘Tea” like Wine has a very sophisticated and aristocratic lineage in its processing and tasting. Happy valley guided tour will give an essence of this culture. Yes, I said culture because I think tea is not a drink only, it is associated with colonial culture and history also.
Happy Valley tea garden and factory is nestled in the quiet lap of the Himalayas. Located at an elevation of 6400ft, it is the only tea garden in Darjeeling town. They provide with a guided tour within their factory to witness the process of tea manufacturing. We were guided by a decent lady named Jaya.
I came to know from her that Darjeeling tea is made from Camellia sinensis, a shrub with small leaves. Assam tea is prepared from camellia sinensis var. assamica that has big leaves.
Tea plucking begins in mid-march and closes at the end-november. The factory has both old and new machines for Withering (1st step). These are called Rolling Machines. In older dayes the Chinese people used to wither tea leaves with their hands. Withering helps to remove moisture from the leaves upto 62-70%.
Next, the leaves are segregated in the segregating machine.Then leaves are rolled in the motor mechanised machine to release the sap which gives the tea its unique flavour.
After that tea is dried at a temperature of 220F and is 97-98% dried. Then tea leaves are cut in an Ornate machine into 4 different grades- whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and tea dust.
Then she took us to the tea tasting section and it was really a wonderful experience tasting the first flush or the second flush (Supremo) standing amid the lush green tea garden.
They have a sales counter and provide with a free membership form which earns a certain percentage of the discount while purchasing tea from them. Happy Valley Tea is internationally famous and is known as SFTGFOP( Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) and is sold by Harrods in London. This factory outlet is the only place in India where you can buy this tea.
Heritage Toy Train Ride
“I told you many a time to book the ticket online. Now see…no ticket is available until coming week.” my voice rose high. My husband, standing like the warrior prince in front of the Darjeeling Railway ticket counter, uttered only one word, “Excellent!!”. Actually, we tried to book the ticket online just the previous night; six tickets were available on IRCTC; but the system did not allow us to book the ticket online saying, “booking or cancellation for this train is not allowed”. I cannot say what was the reason. But it really turned out to be ‘Excellent’ Joy Ride for us. Our car driver listened to everything and took us to a tour operator and we got 3 tickets!! Darjeeling-Ghum-Darjeeling: a 2-hour tour costs Rs.1300/- per person. We had to pay extra Rs.200 to enjoy the Joy Ride and we set out for our much-awaited journey. After all, UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed DHR as a World Heritage Site on 5th December 1999 and who does not want to cherish such a glorious ride?
The shrill whistle of the locomotive is surely enthralling. Though the train runs mostly through the town along the road full of traffic, its slow and swinging movement will give a child-like enjoyment. 10 mins stop at the Batasia Loop fetches scope for capturing photographs. Then 30 mins stop at Ghum to have a look at the Railway Museum at Ghum.
The museum a has lot of photographs, machineries and relics , only a guide is very much needed to explain the history of DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway). The way back from Ghum via Batasia Loop to Darjeeling is a memory worthy to be preserved in the hard disk of your heart.
……Still I have not finished the story of unknown Darjeeling. Please wait for my next post to know more.
Disclaimer : The information in this article is true and complete to the best of my knowledge. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author. whatever is mentioned here is done with the good intention of the author and no one requested me to write it as a review. This is written solely from personal urge. All the photographs are captured by me.Thanks.